Premier Marketing Experts Opine about Engaging Customers in a World of Disruption

by Anna Martinez|

Brierley Institute for Customer Engagement Explores a Critical Issue

How do businesses use Customer Engagement as a competitive tool to combat disruption? A panel of marketing experts pondered that question at a recent symposium titled “Engaging Customers in a World of Disruption,” hosted by the Brierley Institute for Customer Engagement at SMU Cox School of Business.

Hal Brierley, Institute benefactor and Executive in Residence, explained that he brought the group together because, “In my career, I have been both the disruptor and the one disrupted. Customer Engagement programs have played an important role in how we navigate the waves of disruption.”

Brierley, the visionary behind some of the world’s most recognizable loyalty programs, was joined on the panel by Adam Aron, CEO and president, AMC Entertainment; Zipporah Allen, CMO, Pizza Hut; and Frank Hamlin, CMO, GameStop.

Aron of AMC led the revamp of AMC’s former rewards program into the enhanced fee-based AMC Stubs program, which launched in June and now includes an A-List level, featuring up to three movies a week for a monthly fee. Competition from an outside subscription-based movie ticketing service prompted the change. According to Aron, the revamped rewards program has seen significant growth, which it wasn’t seeing before. “Moreover, AMC’s successful reinvention has disrupted the disruptor,” he said.

Pizza Hut CMO Allen acknowledged that the disruptions in the category have created growth opportunities for Pizza Hut. “We came late to the rewards program party, which gave us the chance to watch others make mistakes,” she said. “We launched a spend-based rewards program, and traction has been great. It’s the fastest way to free pizza.”

GameStop CMO Hamlin spoke of the disruptions in the retail video game industry, which he explained can be sorted into digital download distribution versus digital discs for consoles. He added that one of GameStop’s biggest strengths is its store environment, which offers “highly knowledgeable employees and the community of gamers who convene there. The experience itself has to be there for customers,” he said. “This is not about share of wallet, it’s about share of clock.”

Brierley agreed, saying that loyalty programs were originally envisioned as a way to gain share of wallet. “Now,” said Brierley, “share of attention and how customers spend time is the next big battleground,” he said.

Brierley Endowed Professor Marci Armstrong, who leads the Brierley Institute and moderated the discussion said, “We were delighted to have a highly engaging discussion for a packed house of students, alumni and the business community. The panelists highlighted the Customer Engagement drivers of customers’ data, their time and the expanded role of omnichannel accessibility. Our students gained real insights into the factors driving successful Customer Engagement strategy.”

The discussion, held at the Cox School’s Crum Auditorium, was the Brierley Institute’s third annual fall panel discussion. The inaugural discussion, in September 2016, featured Brierley and Karen Katz, then-CEO of Nieman Marcus; Suzanne Rubin, former President of the American Airlines AAdvantage program; Prof. John Deighton from the Harvard Business School; and Armstrong. The second discussion, in November 2017, featured Brierley with the current CEO of American Airlines Doug Parker and former CEO Bob Crandall. Brierley worked as the only outside consultant with American Airlines as it developed the nation’s first frequent flyer program, AAdvantage in 1981, while Crandall was at American Airlines.

About the Brierley Institute for Customer Engagement
The Brierley Institute, founded in 2016 as the first academic institute in the nation devoted to the study of customer engagement, provides support for research, scholarship, teaching and corporate partnership in the area of customer engagement including, but not limited to, loyalty programs, customer insights and relationship management, in the Cox School of Business. Committed to a transition from traditional customer loyalty to a more holistic view of Customer Engagement, the Institute explores the potential possibility of data-driven personalization and how to motivate behavior change and drive incremental revenue. Funding to establish the Institute was provided by the Hal and Diane Brierley Foundation.

About SMU Cox
The SMU Cox School of Business, established in 1920, is committed to influencing the way the world conducts business via prolific research that provokes innovation, change and global thought leadership. The Cox School of Business offers a full range of business education programs including BBA, Full-Time MBA, Professional MBA (part-time) and Master’s degree programs, as well as Executive Education. Consistently ranked among the world’s leading business schools, SMU Cox maintains an active alumni network in more than 80 countries. SMU Cox is accredited by the AACSB.


L to R: Marci Armstrong, Brierley Endowed Professor; Hal Brierley, Institute benefactor and executive in residence; Adam Aron, AMC Entertainment CEO and president; Zipporah Allen, Pizza Hut CMO; Frank Hamlin, GameStop CMO.